Cheap home espresso machines make espresso that tastes just as cheap. The $170 Mypressi Twist doesn't.
Power: N20 cartridges
What's in the box: Twist unit, 4 cartridges, baskets, milk frother
If you want decent espresso at home, the endless series of upgrades and hacks you'll run through make it more like a marriage than a drink, as Ninth St. Espresso's Ken Nye puts it. An espresso machine has to deliver on two variables: Temperature and pressure. The basic home espresso machine fails pretty miserably on temperature stability—something like 10-20 degree swings, when you typically need a stable 195-205 degree temperature for proper extraction.
The Mypressi Twist is therefore remarkable for a number of reasons: It's handheld, it produces espresso that is goddamn delightful, and it's only $170. It's technically the Twist V2, and it's a refreshed version of the original. It's been rebuilt to retain heat better (which means better, more consistent shots), though it still uses N2O cartridges to generate the consistent 9 bars of pressure you need to make espresso.
Despite looking like a little piece of automata—you might think it's an ultraportable pod machine, a twee version of the Nespresso sitting in your office—making espresso with the Twist is a very manual process. You have to measure and grind the beans, pre-heat the Twist with boiling water, load and tamp the grounds. Then finally squeeze the trigger, forcing the water through the puck. And you'll still want to time the shot, like with a full-size machine.
The beans have to be good, or the shot will suck. I used Counter Culture's Espresso Apollo and Ninth St. Espresso's Intelli-roasted Alphabet City blend.
The grinder has to be decent, or the shot will suck. As former World Barista Champion James Hoffman told me, "The quality of any espresso made at home is down to the grinder first and foremost. The Twist is no more forgiving of bad grind than a traditional machine." (I use a $200 Baratza Virtuoso.)
The water has to be hot enough, or the shot will suck. (As a rule though, MyPressi's Stephen O'Brien says, "coffees that perform best at lower temps will taste the best," like ones from South America.)
I didn't make a decent shot until my third pull. But it was shockingly good when I finally nailed it. It doesn't top the most amazing shots at the country's best coffee bars, but it's a pretty good facsimile if you use the right beans and grinder, once you nail the technique.
This is seriously delicious espresso for a little $170 machine. Better than anything under $500, easily. It's also the most solid-feeling piece of handheld gear in my kitchen. The manual nature of the process imparts knowledge, because you have to learn how to grind and tamp and make coffee correctly. It's craft. But it's relatively simple, too. Finally, because you control all the variables—beans, water, grind, dose—you have a ton of control over the espresso, whether you want dense, throat-coating shots or something a little more traditional.
I spent a cartridge every 2-3 drinks to pull the concentrated ristretto-style shots I'm used to getting at top-tier New York City coffee bars. (A 24-cartridge refill is $16, so you're spending 27 cents per drink on air.) The process is too messy and complex for using in the average hotel room, I think.
It's an excellent first home espresso machine. The price is stellar—with a $200 grinder, you've got a fairly respectable setup for under $400. Combined with the build quality, the process and most of all, the espresso, it's a really wonderful little coffee gadget.
Much thanks for Square Mile's James Hoffman, Shot Zombies' Mike White and CoffeeGeek's Mark Prince for their insight.